— Who wins, who's overrated and what's the best game? NBCSports.com has the answers for each region.
Everyone looks and sees a young, freshman-laden team and says no way it can win a game past the Sweet 16. But UK committed just six turnovers against a veteran Florida team on Sunday in the SEC Championship game and it makes shots and plays defense. On the road, the freshmen were not very good (4-7), but on a neutral floor they were 6-1. The NCAA Tournament is a decidedly neutral floor for most schools, but UK always brings truckloads of fans to help them out.
The Wildcats take care of the ball and double-down hard in the post. They don’t have a lot of depth, but they have long-armed guards who want to play defense. Darius Miller, a junior, is on a roll finally in his career with a string of double-figure scoring games.
Kentucky will stay with Ohio State for most of a Sweet 16 matchup. Just watch Kentucky and envision this team next season with four starters back, if they all come back.
Syracuse, as usual.
Since their title in 2003 the Orange have six NCAA Tournament wins. They load up with home games and pile up wins. Big deal. Syracuse is 8-7 over its last 15 games. Indiana State won’t beat the Orange, but Xavier has a good chance. XU has eight tournament wins the last four years, which is a pretty neat trick for an A-10 school.
Most likely first-round upset
No. 7 Washington is too furious and tough to lose to No. 10 Georgia, which can be bothered by aggressive defense and plays soft. No. 13 Princeton won’t be able to guard the UK dribblers and shooters. Carolina will lose, but it won’t be until the regional final.
You have to say Clemson. The Tigers will get warmed up with a win over UAB in a play-in game and then take out fifth-seed West Virginia. The Tigers are well-coached and West Virginia doesn’t get enough offensive rebounds to make up for poor shooting.
Demontez Stitt, a 6-2 senior guard, had a career-high 25 against North Carolina in the ACC Tournament. Brad Brownell, the Clemson coach, is good enough to match tactics with West Virginia’s Bob Huggins.
Best matchup (doesn't have to be first-round)
Kentucky vs. Ohio State
Ohio State will have more experience and the best big man on the floor, Jared Sullinger, but John Calipari is a better coach than Thad Matta and the Wildcats have better scoring guards. The Buckeyes will win, but it will be a thrilling game for 37-38 minutes.
Aaron Craft is a tough defender for the Buckeyes and it will be a treat to see him try and stay in front of UK guards Brandon Knight and Dorn Lamb. The Wildcats have a 6-7 forward, Darius Miller, who can be a matchup problem because he is shooting outside, but also getting loose inside for baskets.
Xavier has lost twice since Jan. 9 and one of the reasons is 6-foot junior guard Tu Holloway. He averages 38 minutes a game and stuffs the stat sheet with 5.5 assists per game and 5.1 rebounds, not to mention 20 points.
The obvious impact player is Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger, who has scored in single-digits just once this season and that was in a 21-point rout of Indiana.
Who wins regional
Ohio State will beat North Carolina. You hate picking chalk in the NCAA Tournament, you want a thunderclap or two, but Ohio State has too much talent for the top part of the bracket. The lower part of this region’s bracket has a lot of teams that can’t compete on the boards with North Carolina. The Tar Heels will sail into the final once Xavier takes out Syracuse.